Category Archives: Media Screenings

Taken 2 (2012) – USA

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 27th September 2012
@ Media Screening Couteusy of 20th Century Fox
In cinemas around Australia by 4 October 2012.

“Taken 2” feels far too much like a franchise film, loses all the edge of your seat impact of the original, filled with clichés dialogue and contains rather predictable plot line. The result is a below par attempt to recreate the excitement of the original and the conventional and boring final 30 minutes did not help the proceeding.

“Taken 2” cashes in on the same concept that made the first film a sleeper hit, despite its modest budget. However, this film loses the audience minute by minute, when it should have an edge of your seat thriller. French director Olivier Megaton (who previous worked with Luc Besson on “Transporter 3”) along with the script writing duo (Besson and Robert Mark Kamen ) are both key accomplices for the sequel failure to excites or entertain. It must be admitted that the film is well structured from the opening minutes and even manages to sustain an adequate level of suspense for a good 50-60 minutes, but from then on, it all goes to hell. In fact the film is filled with unintentional humour and constant unnecessary referral to the first film, making it almost impossible to take the situation seriously.

Liam Neeson is one actor that never fails even when everything else besides him falls apart. He tries extremely hard to keep the film afloat and have a good enough revengeful screen presence to attain the audience attention. However, at times, even Neeson’s intense look can seem a little repetitive and combining with a lacklustre script and plotline, the result is a rather cliché and predictable final 30 minutes of bore-fest. Maggie Grace reprises her role as the daughter in the original film, but here she is not given enough material to work on. At times, Grace just seems lost within the chase and unsure of where her character needs to be. Famke Janssen adds nothing to the proceeding as she spend most of her time either kidnapped or in a black bag wrapped around her face. Perhaps the biggest issue of all comes in the form of the villainous role played by veteran Rade Šerbedžija, who is neither menacing nor interesting for the audience to feel the full effect.

I have always been a keen admirer of Luc Besson’s body of work, while he can be a hit and miss; there is always something in his films that makes it slightly different to the usual Hollywood. His recurring themes of human degradation and the brutal nature of humanity provides a different take on Hollywood action cinema. While the original “Taken” explores the tried and true issue of human trading and forced prostitution, this film does not seem to have any particular focus and the end result is seemingly coming down to an vengeful factor that is never truly explored. While the first film director Pierre Morel (a keen cinematographer), provides a sharp and constant edgy look that makes the film such a success, Megaton lacks this crucial ability and in turn moves the camera so often that the audience is unable to focus on the action on display.

All in all, “Taken 2” is one of those films that try too hard to follow the same premise, tricks and plotline as the original. However, the film lacks a decent script, an important issue, a crucial focus and sharp and edgy direction that is required to make this kind of film clicks. Looking on the brighter side, the film does start pretty convincingly and even manages to sustain the audience attention for a good hour, but from that point onwards, it is essentially a cliché and predictable bore-fest. (Neo 2012)

I rate it 5/10

GF*BF 女朋友。男朋友 (2012) – Taiwan

@ China Lion Screening
Review by: Andrew Chan (Neo) FCCA
Review Date: 3 August 2012

Hong Kong Box Office Taking: HK$3,486,884

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“GF*BF” is one of those tragic life experiences disguised within layers of a coming of age kind of youthful romance, but really it is a deep and complicated emotional turmoil about three tragic souls growing up in Taiwan during the 80s period of immense social change…

“GF*BF” is an immensely difficult film to review, as it is one of those films that is impossible to dislike. It is well directed, stylishly filmed, complicatedly and originally scripted, filled with some truly wonderful and convincing performances, but somehow, it doesn’t totally go the distance. In saying so, director Yang Ya-che does a wonderful job in bringing such a complicated and layered script to life and almost pulled it off convincingly. In fact, there are times when I was almost overwhelmed by the volume of feelings and emotions on display, but somehow the film lacks a resonance emotional connection with the audience that could have propel the film to reach its lofty ambitions. Not unlike 2006’s Taiwanese youth romance “Eternal Summer” (also starring lead actor Joseph Chang), the film deals with similar issues and situated during a testing period of time in Taiwan and for youth growing up in general.

In many ways the film attempts to say too much, striving to be far too complex and by the end of it, the film itself is caught within its own web. There is just so much potential that director Yang could’ve explored, but somehow fails to fully capitalize on it. In fact, some scenes are so powerful and notable, namely the intense confrontation scene at the karaoke room, the simple good bye gesture from Gwei Lun Mei looking on by the bedroom window and the brilliant scene at the airport near the end. At times, the quality from these scenes feels as though it came from a different movie all together. However, a few scenes do not make a movie and instead of uplifting the audience to the ultimate emotional connection, the film decides to cut and chop to another time period.

Joseph Chang (“Eternal Summer”) at times is able to even outshine the always brilliant Gwei Lun Mei (“Secret”). Chang is quietly wonderful in the conflicted role and carries the film with the most difficult character on hand. Rhydian Vaughan (“Love 2012”) tries hard, but is given far too little material to work with, other than being a total jerk. In a way, Gwei Lun Mei is fast becoming the Taiwanese’s version of Zhou Xun and that’s the highest order of compliment an Asian actress can receive in this day and age. Her chemistry with Chang is undeniable and the subtle moments between the two are best left in the unspoken scenes of early tiny touches, wandering eyes and some stirring emotions. What director Yang is able to achieve is being able to create and allow the audience to focus on the two main characters (Gwei Lun Mei and Joseph Chang) that in more than one ways or another are clearly two complete mirror images of each other.

At the end of the day, Yang tries extremely hard to convince the audience about the subject matter that he is trying to say. While there are notions of life, love and friendship that one can possibly learn from or even relate, the film seems more occupy with the twists and turns of complexity into the dynamics of the trio relationships than actual cinematic experience for the audience. With that being said, “GF*BF” is easily a good film, filled with some truly wonderful performances, helmed by an ambitious director and illuminated by a difficult period of change in Taiwanese history. One just cannot help compare the similarities with 2006’s “Eternal Summer”, but of the two films, there is no doubt that Yang takes it much further. A good film that comes up short of its lofty ambitions… (Neo 2012)

I rate it 8/10

Painted Skin: The Resurrection 畫皮II (2012) – China [Australian Premiere]

@ China Lion Screening

Review by: Andrew Chan (Neo) FCCA

Review Date: 3 July 2012

“Painted Skin: The Resurrection” is a perfect example of pure guilty pleasure, mixed within a dream of wonderfully crafted beauties in Zhou Xun, Zhao Wei and Mini Yang…

Seriously, who can possibly resist the temptation of the flawless and seductive display from the ever-wonderful Zhou Xun, a much improved performance from Zhao Wei (after her dismal role in last year’s “Mulan”) and of course the insanely cute portrayal by Mini Yang. Like the 2008 prequel, “Painted Skin”, to truly embrace the experience, the audience needs to slip into the film like a dream and suspend all beliefs. The more you escape from reality and believe into the world of “Painted Skin: The Resurrection”, the more you will end up enjoying the experience. It is one of those special films that require the audience to just go with the flow, enjoy the scenery, the on-screen beauties on display, over the top action sequences, some truly wonderful acting and along with the stunning bright visuals on display.

Zhou Xun is simply flawless in her display as the “spirit” that wants to be more human than human. However, while this film shares the same issue as Ridley Scott’s classic “Bladerunner”, the issue of wanting to be more human is only given a superficial flick of a dice. Still, Zhou is able to carry the film and the manner in which she seductively graces the screen is nothing short of amazing. In particular her noticeable dance to seduce the General (played by Chen Kun) is certainly a highlight. It should also be noted that when the Zhou is required to switch roles with Zhao Wei, it is Zhou who is able to seamlessly step into the shoes of the princess character. It’s been a while since Zhou’s winning performance in “Perhaps Love”, and while she may not win this year, another nomination is only just around the corner.

In terms of Zhao Wei, one must say that she gets better with age. This does not mean that she is aging well in terms of beauty, but rather the improvement comes in the form of her acting. After the disappointing “Mulan” where the fault lies more in the director and the script, rather than her ability in question, Zhao stands shoulder to shoulder in the role of a princess who values beauty and exterior, over the need of being a human. Her character is a direct contrast to Zhou Xun and she performs particularly well until the two switches bodies. There is a sadness in her eyes that allows the audience to always sympathize with her. It is a natural ability that cannot be taught and in many ways, she was always like this. Think back to “Shaolin Soccer” days, the tears in her eyes when she made the noodles still stands firmly on the back of my mind. While she did not exceed Zhou in terms of acting, there is no doubt that Zhao is finally coming of age.

After first catching my eye in “All’s Well, Ends Well 2012” as the swimsuit babe, tackling a relatively difficult and engaging role in “Love in the Buff” and then meeting her in person at the same movie premiere, it is unreservedly that Mini Yang is the latest “it” girl to win my heart. What impressed me in this role is how versatile Yang is. Yang is constantly cute and perhaps the one character in the film that can link more to reality at a human level. Her giggles, laughs, cute-eyed look and comic timing is all at show here. While on surface, it seems like an easy role to play, it should not be underestimated, as it is a kind of role that can so easily go the route of being outright annoying and a waste of space. Instead Yang is able to glue the audience to the screen and turn her small role into a scene stealing performance. Putting aside my personal bias, Yang is still an actress to watch for years to come.

With the trio of actresses taking center stage, the male counterparts are given lesser roles. Still, as general, Chen Kun (also in the original “Painted Skin”) is adequate if not stunning. In particular in the scene when the princess departs him, the sadness and regret in his eyes is certainly of note. While Feng Shaofeng (“White Vengeance”) is filled with boyish good looks and his chemistry with Mini Yang carries the film in another angle. Perhaps the weakest link of the film comes in the form of Taiwanese singer Fei Xiang (born Kris Phillips) as villain, which in many ways seems more laughable than menacing.

It must be said that one cannot stop being disappointed in the lack of a need for 3D or perhaps for the film not making most of the technology on hand. While “Painted Skin: The Resurrection” is beautiful to look at and at times the bright contrast and use of colours in the scenery and backdrop is breathtaking to endure. On the other hand, in the battle scene where the shooting of thousands of arrows is disappointing to say the least, despite obviously taking a page out of Zhang Yimou’s infamous “Hero” scene. While Yimou did not have the same technology back in 2002, “Skin” fails to stretch the 3D technology and the result lacks the outcome of Yimou’s earlier work. The film always lacks the vital ingredient of fight sequences, this may be due to the departure of Donnie Yen, but for the few fights that is included, almost all of them are well-choreographed. However, sometimes, less is not more, when the film could have done with at least a few more elaborated staged fights.

All in all, “Painted Skin: The Resurrection” is easily a crowd pleaser and in many ways more of the same as the 2008’s original. What I really enjoy about these kinds of fantasy films are the manner in which it allows you to escape into another world. Imagine having a dream which compose of the seductiveness of Zhou Xun, the sympathetic looks of Zhao Wei and the cute-eyed Mini Yang. For me, it is more like a dream come true. Still, “Skin” is by no means a perfect movie and as with most dreams there are numerous plot holes, flaws and unrealistic moments, but if one is able to totally suspend your beliefs, then one can truly enjoy the experience. At the end of the day, sometimes when watching a film like “Painted Skin: The Resurrection” it is all about entertainment and for me, just thinking of the trio of actresses, I am already finding it hard to resist. Most certainly a dream-like experience… (Neo, 2012)

Neo rates it 8/10

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Rock of Ages (2012) – USA [Sydney Première]

Tom Cruise. Mr. Tom Cruise is simply amazing. In fact he is the only reason why this movie should be watched. Believe me; his performance here is exhilarating, different, rock-like and totally awesome. In essence, Cruise is easily unrecognisable and the manner he is able to electrify the big screen makes Rock of Ages totally watch-able. Without being over-bearing, “Rock of Ages” is an average movie that never raises above its musical genre clichés. In fact, it is actually filled with all the predictable clichés of puppy and stop-start love plot line. However, the reason that the film is better than it should be, can simply be attributed by a long list of strong supporting cast that goes on like a shopping list in Hollywood.

In leading roles are two young guns and romantic leads in the form of Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough. Their love of rock music brings them together and eventually predictably put them apart at the same time. While both kids are rather raw in their acting, they are both likeable and have enough justifiable presence along with a good singing voice to boot. However, both are only able to manufacture emotions and the result is the audience never really connecting with the duo. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand turn out far better and the sudden twist of storyline provides a welcome laughter moment for the audience. Likewise, Paul Giamatti is always good as the greedy music producer and the monkey is without question along with Cruise the best thing in the film. In terms of females, Malin Åkerman does extremely well as a Rolling Stone’s journalist and is able to churn out an hilariously and sexy display. Unfortunately the usually dependable Catherine Zeta Jones turns out the worst out of the pack and incredibly wasted in a role that seems more annoying than funny.

All in all, “Rock of Ages” is at best an average film that offers nothing new, but is elevated by some fine performances, namely Tom Cruise and a strong cast to boot. Director Adam Shankman is an expert in the musical arena; therefore it is all the more unfortunate that Rock of Ages seems just exactly like “Hairspray” in disguise, rather than aiming for something more original and touching. Still, despite all these mediocre phrases, “Rock of Ages” starts off slowly, but kicks out the electric presence the moment Cruise steps into play as Stacee Jaxx and never stops beating till the credits began to roll. That’s a fine achievement by all means, even if the film never truly deserves it at all. At the end of the day, this is a film where some fun can be had, but ultimately it is really just an empty rock ‘n’ roll experience… (Neo 2012)

Neo rates it 6.5/10

A Royal Affair / En kongelig affære (2012) – Denmark

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 13 June 2012
DVD Review: 9 November 2012
Released by Madman Entertainment on DVD and Blu-Ray

Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as the mad King of Denmark, may not have been given the title role, but he oozes with scene stealing presence in almost every scene he appears. In saying that Danish historical drama “A Royal Affair” is purely carried by Mikkel is by no means an understatement. In fact, the film is rather disappointing with all characters rather blend and uninspiring, apart from the King. Director Nikolaj Arcel (writer of “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo”) is clearly a much better script writer than at bringing the picture to life. “A Royal Affair” could have been something enormous, but rather it all seemed too much like clichés, too many boredom moments and some rather predictable acting from Mads Mikkelsen as the Royal doctor. I am by no means an expert in Danish cinema, but despite looking wonderfully detail in its depiction of 1700s life, the film lacks a vital ingredient of having a heart. There is no doubt that “Royal” is not a bad film and will never be, but one cannot stop wondering what could’ve been and once again the case of a missed opportunity.

As mentioned earlier, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard steals the show from far more acclaimed Mikkelsen (“Casino Royale”‘s fame) and the Queen played by rising Swedish star Alicia Vikander. Mikkel is able to bring his mad character to life and more importantly a human naturalistic touch to it as well. It is a vital stranglehold that the film ultimately fails miserably at. In saying so, Mads Mikkelsen is extremely disappointing in a role that requires so much more. His stoic outlook and appearance certainly did not help the cause, but what really led him down is his inability to show the conflict between love, power and ideals that his character and the audience needed from him. Although it must be noted that despite the age difference, there is an underlying chemistry between him and Alicia Vikander. Moving on to Vikander, there is no question of her pretty face, but despite a promising start, she is never sure of the character that she is trying so hard to portray. At the end, the audience does not feel for either Vikander and Mikkelsen and while both actors should be blamed, a burden should be attributed to the director Arcel, by not being able to exploit the most at his disposals.

“A Royal Affair” is really a historical film about a time in the late 1700s when people are starting to challenge the status quo, the introduction of science, questioning of the Church and all of these leading to the times of being in the middle of the age of enlightenment. The famous Royal doctor Johan Struensee is being portrayed as a simple and straightforward idealist guy that bedded a Queen, but rather he is an interesting character that is driven with passion and ideal to change the world and in the midst of things got stuck in an affair with the Queen. However, he is nothing, but a simple character, as he is torn between assuming more and more power as well as his personal drive for ideals. Here, all we see is a simple black and white character where by the end of the film, he seemed more like a villain than a complicated yet flawed character he should have been.

All in all, “A Royal Affair” is really a missed opportunity. Although it must be admitted, that the screenplay and the best actor award seems thoroughly deserving in winning the Berlin Film Festival awards, but the film precisely fails to deliver in every other category. The film is also a tact too slow in the beginning and lacks tension even in the rather frequent sexual Royal affair. Luckily, the film is saved by the wonderful Mikkel Boe Følsgaard whose character despite being the least normal of the trio, stand heads and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. Perhaps the film-maker was right to focus on the pair of scandalous lovers, after all the film name is titled after it. Still, this could easily be a far better film, far better acted and far more deep and meaning. Perhaps, I am being a tact too harsh, but the result of “A Royal Affair” is not that it is a bad film, but rather it is far too average, far too normal and far too predictable to be involving and affecting. I should be crying by the end of the film, but instead, I almost felt nothing. Beautiful to look at, but ultimately I felt nothing…

I rate it 6/10

Special Features:
Interviews with director Nicolaj Arcel and stars Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander
Picture gallery with character biographies
Family tree, illustrating the links between the Danish and British royal families
Theatrical trailer